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Ex-Honduran chief put on U.S. checklist of corrupt officers

WASHINGTON D.C.: The Biden administration has placed former Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez on a classified list of officials suspected of corruption or undermining democracy in Central America.

In line with legislation pushed by ex-Congressman Eliot Engel, former chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, the list was provided last summer to the U.S. Congress.

Engel’s list contained the names of another former Honduran president, Porfirio “Pepe” Lobo Sosa, among more than 50 current lawmakers, senior politicians and former officials in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, collectively known as the “Northern Triangle” countries.

But one notable omission was Hernandez, who was in power at the time but faced accusations that surfaced in the drug trafficking trial of his brother, ex lawmaker Antonio “Tony” Hernandez, alleging his political ascent was funded by bribes from drug traffickers.

Individuals on the list are generally ineligible for visas and admission to the U.S.

“The commitment of the U.S. to fighting corruption and promoting democracy, rule of law, and accountability in support of the people of Central America is ironclad,” the State Department said in a statement, citing “multiple, credible media reports” that Hernandez had engaged in significant acts of corruption by taking payments from drug traffickers.

With Hernandez’s stepping down last month, the State Department said it was no longer necessary to maintain secrecy.

Pressure has been building in Washington to pursue Hernandez as his successor, Xiomara Castro, sought to improve relations with the U.S.

Following a letter sent to Attorney-General Merrick Garland by Rep. Norma Torres, a California Democrat who co-chairs the Central America Caucus in Congress calling for the U.S. Justice Department to indict Hernandez, Sen. Bob Menendez, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, called on the Biden administration to designate Hernandez a “significant foreign narcotics trafficker” under the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act, making it illegal for U.S. companies and individuals to do business with him.

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“Hernandez has been a central figure in undermining the rule of law in his own country and in protecting and assisting drug traffickers to move their materials through Honduras and to the U.S.,” Torres said at the time.

However, Hernandez compared the move to a witch hunt fueled by the false testimony of confessed killers who were also key witnesses in his brother’s trial.

In a statement, he highlighted his record for pursuing drug cartels, which he claimed was supported by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and other federal agencies, and questioned why the designation was based on media reports.